- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Pentagon’s top weapons tester has given a failing grade to the Army’s premier battlefield intelligence processor, which troops in Afghanistan have criticized as being too slow and unreliable in sifting data to find the enemy.

A Nov. 1 memo from the Defense Department’s Operational Test and Evaluation office calls an updated version of the $2.5 billion Defense Common Ground System “not operationally effective, not operationally suitable and not operationally survivable against cyber threats,” according to a copy obtained by The Washington Times.

The across-the-board indictment is a blow to the Army’s most cherished data-collection and analysis system just as appropriators in Congress are taking a closer look at Pentagon expenditures.

What’s more, the common ground system faces more competition from non-Army commercial products, such as one called Palantir, that can outperform it in mining data to identify targets, a process called “link analysis.”

The Times has reported extensively on the Palantir and common ground systems, which military intelligence analysts use to determine the probable location of roadside bombs, the No. 1 killer of U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

The Nov. 1 internal memo, sent to Frank Kendall, undersecretary of defense for acquisition, said the Army is proposing a solution to address the common ground system’s operational failure: Eliminate the software “enclave” that handles sensitive classified data.

The enclave is apparently why the system, in part, performed so poorly in recent tests. Without it, the common ground system should “significantly improve the work flow,” the memo states.

According to the memo, the Army is asking Mr. Kendall to approve a scaled-back version for deployment to troops.

Limiting capabilities

Two members of Congress are telling Mr. Kendall that permitting a scaled-back version of the Defense Common Ground System (DCGS) to be deployed is “deeply troubling.”

In a Nov. 28 letter, Reps. Duncan Hunter, California Republican and a member of the House Armed Services Committee, and James P. Moran, Virginia Democrat and a member of the House Appropriations subcommittee on defense, said a restricted system “represents yet another setback for an already troubled program.”

“The very people it was designed for, the warfighters, are requesting commercial off-the-shelf software in lieu of DCGS to accomplish their mission,” the congressmen wrote. “Specifically, by our count, at least 13 deploying Army units have requested commercial off-the-shelf solutions in place of DCGS, indicating that DCGS has so far failed to meet our warfighters’ in-theater needs.”

The Army referred questions about the test to the Pentagon, where Air Force Lt. Col. Melinda Morgan, a Defense Department spokeswoman, provided a statement explaining the proposed modification.

The Pentagon’s operational test found that classified data within the common ground system could not be passed down from division level to the brigade.

“The sheer effort of moving data across those boundaries led to substantial delays and other problems,” the statement says.

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